Beyond Keyboard War
There is unusual surge in activity on the internet during days leading up to elections—state assembly or general—with people taking to social media to express political views or vent dissatisfaction while others sing praises for candidates or parties they support.
Many resort to war of words in the comment section of political stories. It gives an impression that the masses are eager to participate in the biggest festival of democracy that election is.
But the stark difference between the reel and the real world will disappoint any responsible citizens. The fact is that only 58.19% of eligible voters in the country cast their votes in 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
The voter turnout in the subsequent election in 2014 increased to 66.40%, which is the highest ever recorded in history of Independent India. It appears this record will be broken this year with voter turnout in the already held six phases of election showing an impressive figure of 69.50% (first phase), 68.40% (second phase), 69.44% (third phase), 65.51% (fourth phase), and 63.5% 63.49% (fifth phase) with one more to go.
While the increase in the number of voters is encouraging, the actual picture tells that a huge portion of the population (more than 30%) does not take part in the election process. The Northeast region, which is predominantly rural, stands out in electoral participation with all the states except Mizoram scoring above the national average in terms of voter turnout during the past two elections.
Nagaland recorded the highest turnout in the 2014 general elections at 87.82 percent, followed by its sister states Tripura (84.72 percent) and Sikkim (83.37 percent). These were the top three turnout states in 2009 too. Nagaland experienced a 2.08% decline in 2014 (compared to 2009). It slipped further to 83.12% in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Generally, low electoral participation is linked to low education and income of the electorate. But in India, city dwellers who are mostly literate and economically well-off, are less enthusiastic voters than those from the rural areas. Statistics also say that seats with high SC and ST population proportions witness higher voter turnout.
This voting pattern indicates the indifferent attitude of a chunk of population in more developed states and cities. Be it that people might not be voting to avoid the trouble of standing in long queues, or that they have had enough of government apathy, or have lost hope in politicians, or are pre-occupied with personal work, it doesn’t help the society and the country.
When 111-year old Bachan Singh; Ram Pyari Sankhwar, 110; Ganga Devi, 107; Tilak Raj, 106 and several other centenarians had the time and energy to exercise their voting right, there is no excuse for staying away from it unless one is ill. All responsible citizens who are eligible to vote should participate in the electoral process because those elected will rule the country for up to five years. It is this fundamental right that keeps the lawmakers on their toes and ensures that they don’t undermine the welfare of the people.
Even if one were utterly disappointed with candidates, just being there at the polling station and pressing NOTA will give out a message that they are responsible citizens who will exercise adult suffrage if there was a capable candidate.
However, it is disappointing that educated youths, who have all the time in the world to criticise the government and engage in political wars hiding behind the keyboard, choose to stay in the comfort of their rooms on election day. By not voting, they help corrupt politicians rule again and let criminals win. George Jean Nathan said it best when he said, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.”